Friday, August 31, 2012

Urban Chickens Make Healthy Kids and Strong Communities

Helping the Hungry

One in eight people struggle with hunger, including many children. One way municipalities can help their hungry citizens for very little cost is to promote backyard gardens, including keeping small flocks of chickens. Eggs from hens allowed to forage and move freely (even within appropriately sized enclosed areas) are much higher in nutrients than those available at grocery stores.  From Mother Earth News:
"In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found that eggs from pastured hens in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3s than eggs from U.S. supermarkets. In 1974, a British study found that eggs from pastured hens had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory-farmed hens. In 1997, a study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found eggs from free-range chickens had higher levels of both omega-3s and vitamin E than those from hens maintained in cages and fed commercial diets. Most recently, in 2003, Pennsylvania State University researchers reported that birds kept on pasture produced three times more omega-3s in their eggs than birds raised in cages on a commercial diet. They also found twice as much vitamin E and 40 percent more vitamin A in the yolks of the pastured birds."

Backyard hens' eggs cost about $2 a dozen (for feed and wood shavings; less if they are given more kitchen scraps, weeds and grass), which cost more than $4 a dozen for (almost) comparably nutritious eggs at the grocery store. They are a great source of affordable protein.

Backyard urban hen keeping saves a family money and saves the city money on feeding the hungry.  It also saves a municipality money by reducing the food scraps that go into the waste stream (to see what you can feed hens from the kitchen, click here).

Food Security

If someone wanted to cripple a whole lot of people, that someone could attack large sources of food, such as the drought has attacked the nation's corn crop this year. Or when 228 million eggs were recalled in August 2010 because of a huge salmonella outbreak. When you grow corn in your backyard and raise a small flock of hens for eggs, you are at a much smaller risk of food losses. Taxpayers and insurance companies and families save money on health care costs from such outbreaks.

In his life-changing book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben discusses at length the importance of focusing on small and local. Food, energy, and governance needs to be focused on local, manageable projects. Keeping a backyard flock is part of that movement.

Vitamin N

Contact with nature including gardens and pets (backyard chickens are a hybrid of pets and food source), has shown to reduce mental illness - including depression and anxiety - obesity and even violence.  It improves mood and the ability to concentrate (hello test scores), and speeds up physical healing. Backyard gardens, parks, household pets, neighborhood trees, and yes, chickens, help create healthier people and healthier communities. Richard Louv calls contact with nature Vitamin N. In his book The Nature Principle, he writes, "an emerging high-tech/high-nature housing design philosophy includes conserving energy, using nature-friendly materials, and also applying biophilic design principles to promote health, human energy, and beauty." (p. 161) Backyard chickens are not a fallback to dirt yards in podunkville, they are a part of a diverse and progressive redesign of urban living that includes wilderness, gardens, and high-tech living.

Healthy Children and Communities

What happens when you give kids nutritious food, a sense of security, and a connection with nature? They do better in school and are less likely to follow a violent lifestyle.

And what about adults? Well, the same thing happens. Healthy, safe, engaged adults care for themselves and their neighbors.

Now who wouldn't want to create these conditions for their cities? Well cared for urban chickens need to be legalized in Aurora, Colorado.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Letter to Aurora City Council

August 23, 2012

To City Council and Aurora Sentinel:
Aurora has long stood for American freedom and strong community. Both of these are supported – surprisingly enough – by the keeping of backyard chickens. During World War II, the keeping of hens was declared an act of patriotism. Today it’s celebrated as trendy and sustainable by the likes of Martha Stewart, Susan Orlean of the New York Times, and Food Network’s Alton Brown. People who keep chickens in small urban gardens, who follow local ordinances of keeping coops and runs clean and protecting hens from predators, tend to be people who care for animals, the earth, and their communities. 

Arguments against hen keeping usually include noise, odor, and pest attraction. These concerns can easily be avoided by not permitting roosters, keeping coops clean, and well-designed coops. Hens only vocalize for approximately 5 minutes after laying an egg and make less noise than dogs or even human conversations. Well designed and maintained coops and runs (i.e. with hardware cloth buried all the way around to keep out foxes, etc.) reduce or eliminate pest and predator problems. Proper sanitation – washing your hands after collecting eggs or dealing with chickens, eliminates any health concerns. 

Another common concern with allowing small flocks of urban hens (a maximum of six hens works for most families) is that there will be a greater cost to the city and animal control. When Longmont recently legalized chickens, they found these concerns to be unfounded. People who want to raise chickens in their backyards for eggs are doing so (mostly) out of a sense responsibility for taking control of their food sourcing and reducing their carbon footprint. These are not the kinds of folks who'll be requiring animal control to come out and bust chicken owners for too many animals making too much noise.

There is one last concern that is rarely addressed directly. Aurora fears being seen as a backwoods town. They fear that allowing hens will turn the city into Farmville or possibly Little Mexico. I’ve heard several racist comments about Mexicans and hen keeping. Not only are these comments racist and inappropriate, the fact is that regulating hen ownership – no roosters, small flocks, carefully constructed coops – would eliminate most of the predicted problems and give structure to remediation of unacceptable situations when necessary. For instance, if there is a rooster wandering around the neighborhood, the people responsible can be fined, the rooster removed, and others who are keeping only hens in a sanitary and well-constructed situation can continue to care for their animals in a non-disruptive manner. When Councilmen Bob Broom said chickens weren’t compatible with Aurora (quoted in the Denver Post), I suspect he was referring to these images of hen keeping. Tell that to Martha Stewart, Barbara Streisand and Julia Roberts, all of whom keep hens.

Commerce City, Denver, Longmont, Boulder, Highlands Ranch, Centennial, Englewood, and Parker, to name a few cities in the area, allow hens. It’s time we did too. It’s time we stood up for being a free country, one that carefully and respectfully regulates backyard hen keeping in support of sustainable communities.

Clea Danaan Edelblute
and Aurora resident

Addendum: Why Chickens?
Chickens that are hand-raised from chicks can be wonderful pets. They come when they are called, enjoy being held and are beautiful and even affectionate pets.
Hens provide great-tasting, fresh, nutritious eggs for your family
In fact studies show that compared to ordinary eggs, eggs from hens with access to plants and bugs have less cholesterol and saturated fat, but several times more beta carotene, Vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids. They also have much more vitamin A, vitamin B-12, and folic acid.
Hens require little space to be happy and healthy; 3 hens can live a happy and healthy life in just 12 square feet.
Hen manure is a wonderful fertilizer which can provide you a healthy lawn without all of the chemicals
Hens love to eat the nasty bugs in your yard, including mosquitoes, slugs, ticks, and beetles just to name a few.
Chickens eat kitchen scraps and lawn clippings
Chickens help to keep these items out of landfills and turning them into healthy eggs.
Chicken keeping is educational. Backyard chickens provide lessons for children about responsibility and where food comes from.
Backyard chickens allow us to reduce our carbon footprint by producing some of our own food.  Every food item we can produce organically and on our own property is one less item that must be shipped to us and shopped for. Every item of food we raise ourselves represents a step in living a greener, more sustainable, lifestyle.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Gardening: The Gateway Passtime

As I poached gathered-this-morning eggs, I thought, Wow... we raise chickens, garden, homeschool, and now we have solar panels on the roof. We've truly become one of THOSE families. I had to laugh.

So a warning before you tuck a zucchini seed into the ground for the very first time: gardening will take over your life. Soon you'll be stealing your neighbor's bags of grass clippings and raked leaves. You'll be carefully tucking away cat hair and dryer lint, all in the name of healthy humus. You might have a bin of worms hidden under the kitchen table. Your kitchen window will boast drying peach pits and pumpkin seeds.

And then... you'll think, I need manure. And wouldn't fresh eggs be great? They're so pricey at the store. So you get some chicks. Who grow up to be chickens. Who poop manure.

You've become accustomed to saving all your kale stems (for compost and chicken feed), bean-cooking water (to pour on plants), the entire neighborhood's fallen branches (for shredding into mulch), and yogurt cups (for seed starting in the spring), and you think - look at all that RESOURCE pouring down on my head that I'm not using! What a waste! So you get solar panels and a rain barrel, harvesting and directing free gifts from above.

And then, well, you're home with your garden and hens and practically free electricity, and you think, why send kids away to school where they have to eat reheated frozen food and read about growing seeds in little easy readers? So you take the plunge and keep them home. You've become a homeschooling family. Munching on carrots fresh from the garden and carting around a plucky black-and-white hen.

Maybe next it's time to ditch the car.  

Now you've seriously become one of THOSE families.

All because you pressed one little seed into dirt and watered it.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Please visit one of my sponsors
Bentley Seeds Inc.